By Dr. Darrin Hanson (aka “Professor Knowsome”)
Over the past couple months I had the opportunity to teach an adult education series at Geneva Campus Church in Madison, WI. I was asked to lead a series entitled “Christian Engagement in Politics”. The impetus for the was the then upcoming election in November of 2012. The church leadership wanted to help the church members think through what it meant to “think Christianly about politics”.
The first Sunday was an overview of what we would be discussing the rest of the series and jumped in with a couple controversial questions. The first question was: Should Christians be engaged in politics at all? If so, how? Should the participation be through the church or as individuals? To get the discussion rolling, I posed three competing viewpoints:
- Christians are called to be salt and light in the world. In the modern world, this is very difficult to accomplish outside of politics. The Church, which serves as the organizational body for Christians, should spearhead this.
- Politics is an inherently dirty business and Christians should have nothing to do with it.
- Individual Christians should be engaged in politics, but not the Church. When the Church becomes directly involved, it loses some of its moral authority in the community.
The inherent dirtiness of politics is what drives the second viewpoint. From this perspective, the Church cannot help but be negatively influenced by political participation. I know some strong Christians in the US who refuse to even vote because they are so convinced that the entire system is that corrupt. Historically, this perspective can be found in the Anabaptist tradition. This tradition is concerned for the sanctity of the Church and that even the appearance of political influence will sully the the view held of the Church even if it does not actually sully the Church members.
The third viewpoint is one of many middle ground perspectives. It encourages political engagement by individual Christians, but not as a Church institutionally. The rationale for this is that it is important to be engaged in the political realm, but politics will inevitably dirty the reputation of any institution engaging in it. Individuals are more likely to come away unscathed. An additional consideration is that individuals who happen to disagree with the Church’s political positions might not be able to separate the Church’s political messages from its spiritual ones.
As I said before, these are not the only three possible perspectives. The point of using these three is simply to get our mental juices flowing. So, in summary, here are a few questions to think about:
- What does it mean for the Church to be “salt and light” in the political world?
- Can the Church or individual Christians engage in politics without being corrupted by it? Even if they aren’t corrupted, can they avoid the appearance of being corrupted?
- How does engaging in politics affect the Christian witness?